Dedham District Court issued a Criminal Complaint for Motor Vehicle and Drug Possession charges against Newton-Wellesley Hospital E.R. doctor, Kristin Howard, on Tuesday as a result of a car crash Friday morning that was captured on video.
That video recording from a traffic light camera shows her car coming out of a parking lot and crashing into another car on State Street in Wellesley. This video has made national and international news. Commentator, George Stephanopoulos described the video as "heart stopping".
This exposure is sure to have an effect on the case. In fact, to some extent, it already has -- at arraignment,an experienced and well respected prosecutor asked for bail in the amount of $10,000.00. When one considers that the purpose of a cash bail is to ensure that an accused will return to court and not run away, the incongruity of this request becomes apparent. Was there really a chance that a well know physician would throw everything away and flee because of an OUI charge in the District Court? Since the Wellesley Police arrested her after the Friday morning accident, she must have been released from the Wellesley Police Station and must have come to court of her own volition. At the station a magistrate likely reviewed the situation and made the correct assumption that she could be trusted to arrive in court on Tuesday. After arraignment and bail arguments the Dedham District Court judge agreed and released her on her own recognizance to return again in January.
What about the charges? Boston.com has the most detailed news story. According to their report Doctor Howard was charged with Operating Under the Influence of Drugs and Alcohol, Operating to Endanger, Leaving the Scene of an Accident Causing Property Damage, and illegal Possession of Prescription Pills. The article describes the doctor driving in a parking lot, hitting a truck, backing up into a fence twice and then accelerating into the street and hitting a car stopped at the traffic light.
The police claimed to have smelled alcohol on her breath, hence the OUI Alcohol charge. They found prescription drugs in the car, hence the OUI Drugs charge and the drug possession charge. Striking the fence and the truck followed by accelerating into the street allegedly supports the charges of Leaving the Scene charges.
But there is no mention of an alcohol breath test, and only a single reference to a field sobriety test. Would it be reasonable to expect an operator to perform a road-side balancing type test after such a crash? No matter how "heart stopping" a video is, it does not prove everything.
There may or may not have been damage to the fence or the truck. If she tapped them and did not damage them, she may not be convicted of leaving the scene of property damage. This will be explored by defense counsel. Moreover, the prosecution will require witnesses to prove that she stuck anything. It is not on the video.
As for the prescription drugs, they may have been in her car, but were they in her system? Was there a blood test? Even if the drugs were in her system, did they cause her to drive the way she did? The prosecutor said that she wrote the prescriptions to herself, and that "raises some flags." Self prescribing is not actually a crime, but it invalidates the prescription and makes possession of the drugs illegal.
At least one article quoted Doctor Howard as telling the police that the car had a mechanical malfunction. The police also claimed that she initially said she was going to work, and then said she was going home from work.
One poster on the ABCnews.com site asked this question: "Why do people plead NOT guilty when they are CAUGHT both on video CRASHING into another vehicle, they found drugs that had been prescribed to HER by HER AND she initially LIED about where she was going[?]" This illustrates the prejudicial effect a video may have on a case. The video appears to be damning, but it does not prove all the elements of all of the charges. I trust that Doctor Howard has experienced defense counsel to sort though it all.